At the beginning, by the 13th century BC, Athens was ruled by an absolute monarchy. Over the years, however, the noblemen put a check on the king’s authority by appointing an archon and a polemarch. The former had executive functions and held his post for life (later limited to a ten-year period), while the polemarch was a general and commander of the army and was elected for only one year. By 682 BC, the noblemen had established an oligarchy (the government of the rich), as the king performed only symbolic and religious functions; the Areopagus was also created, being a supreme court, which tried those accused of murder. Since the government of the nobility was so strict, harsh, and sometimes brutal, especially with the peasants and craftmen, revolts broke out throughout the 7th century BC. As a result, the noblemen assigned Draco, an archon, with the task of writing a series of severe laws to restore order. These were called the Draconian Laws, which were based on the old patriarchal rights and punished offense with extreme severity.
To assuage the social malaise and dissatisfaction, Cleisthenes, an Athenian nobleman, undertook the task of implementing a series of political reforms, which deeply transformed the government of Athens, ushering democracy. Thus, from 503 BC, the people of Athens became the sole sovereign of their destiny as every citizen was entitled to the same social and political rights. After these reforms, the government of Athens consisted of three ruling bodies: 1) a Senate, composed of 500 members, who were annually elected; 2) the people’s Assembly, called Ekklesia; 3) the ten Strategos, who were commanders of the army. Every citizen older than twenty years of age constituted the Ekklesia, which was convened outdoors on the Agora (main public square) every eight days. The people’s Assembly could declare war, grant citizenship, and examined and approved or disapproved government officials’ behavior. To be a Senator, an Athenian had to be older than thirty as the Senate had legislative functions and was in charge of establishing deplomatic relations with foreign countries.